Fret level and crown

For help with setups and other technical issues.
User avatar
kingmedicine
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 152
Joined: Wed Jul 14, 2010 9:45 am

Fret level and crown

Post by kingmedicine » Sun Mar 29, 2020 10:04 am

So I decided to attempt a fret level and crown on one of my guitars as a project. I’ve mostly been following Ron Kirn’s guide (https://www.tdpri.com/threads/fret-leve ... 01.201556/), but also trying to use other bits of information from elsewhere. Leveling went smoothly (I have one of the StewMac beams), but I am having a hell of a time with the crowning (in retrospect, now was probably not a great time to try this either as no techs are open/available for me to just stop and take this to :fp: ).

I am trying to use a triangular file for crowning after marking the flat sections with a Sharpie, but I don’t think I am using the “rolling inward” motion correctly to actually shape the crown. It seems quite difficult to take off enough material towards the center of the crown without scuffing the very top/center (to gradually make the line/flat section thinner). I’ve been able to get a few thin lines down the middle, but they do not seem totally uniform in their thickness. For those of you that have done this, any tips/videos that you think are particularly helpful? How thin are you shooting for the center like to be and any tips for removing an even amount of material on either side/keeping a uniform stroke? Or should I just bite the bullet and buy an actual crowning file?

User avatar
Scout
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 208
Joined: Thu Feb 27, 2020 3:26 pm
Location: Phillyish

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by Scout » Sun Mar 29, 2020 10:11 am

Get a crowning file. Right tool for the job, your guitar will be happy you did.

User avatar
Horsefeather
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 304
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2017 9:47 pm

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by Horsefeather » Sun Mar 29, 2020 10:24 am

Why in hell would you even try this without a crowning file? They're only a few bucks!

Good on you for taking the initiative to do it yourself, though; I think more people should do the same.

Now go get yourself the proper tool!

For anyone else thinking of doing their own frets: you can use a scrap piece of stone counter top for a leveling beam. Chances are any slab shop will have a huge dumpster of scraps and will let you take what you want for free.

User avatar
adamrobertt
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 1449
Joined: Sun Mar 28, 2010 10:28 am
Contact:

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by adamrobertt » Sun Mar 29, 2020 11:11 am

Horsefeather wrote:
Sun Mar 29, 2020 10:24 am
Why in hell would you even try this without a crowning file? They're only a few bucks!

Good on you for taking the initiative to do it yourself, though; I think more people should do the same.

Now go get yourself the proper tool!

For anyone else thinking of doing their own frets: you can use a scrap piece of stone counter top for a leveling beam. Chances are any slab shop will have a huge dumpster of scraps and will let you take what you want for free.
He could always make his own crowning file out of a bent nail and some old guitar string...

User avatar
kingmedicine
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 152
Joined: Wed Jul 14, 2010 9:45 am

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by kingmedicine » Sun Mar 29, 2020 11:30 am

Horsefeather wrote:
Sun Mar 29, 2020 10:24 am
Why in hell would you even try this without a crowning file? They're only a few bucks!
Well, I had seen quite a few people recommend the triangular sided one as you can better see what you’re doing. I can see how it works, but the learning curve seems like it would be quite steep given how often/many of these I would need to do.

So assuming I get a crowning file, what would you all recommend? I think the StewMac Z files look nice (seems like the V shape helps with avoiding buggering the tops of the frets), but those also seem to be the most expensive. Although I’ll have a look around and see if I can find a cheaper alternative maybe.

Singlebladepickup
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 2346
Joined: Tue Oct 21, 2014 4:12 am
Location: U.S. of fuckin' A.

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by Singlebladepickup » Sun Mar 29, 2020 12:32 pm

Buy once, cry once

User avatar
Scout
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 208
Joined: Thu Feb 27, 2020 3:26 pm
Location: Phillyish

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by Scout » Sun Mar 29, 2020 12:52 pm

The Stew mac Z files are top of the line, I don't have any experience with them . I used the old school file type for a long time , recently I bought the chinese three sided diamond one. Not much money, works fine. Make sure the neck is flat, I use a notched straight edge, by adjusting the truss rod. Mark the tops of the frets with a marker, take off just enough to have flats on all frets, more if you have wear divots. Re-mark the tops, you won't file the tops by choosing the right file radius, take full strokes at first , pay attention to the top marks, work it until you have an even thin marker line on top. You can touch up some unevenness with the triangle file. Switch to sandpaper to whatever finish you want, polish if you want after the sandpaper.

User avatar
timtam
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 1521
Joined: Sun Oct 22, 2017 2:42 am
Location: Melbourne

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by timtam » Sun Mar 29, 2020 5:02 pm

The 3corner/triangle file is what the pros used for years before specialized crowning files appeared. Many still do. The file usually has its edges ground flat so that it is fretboard-safe. The issue with them is that they require a good deal of skill, knowledge of exactly what you are trying to achieve, and how to get there. I would guess that the majority of pros use a specialized file now, and everyone has their preference amongst the half-dozen or so designs available. Those still require skill, and you can make a mess if you don't know what you're doing. People always say to practice on a cheap burner neck first.

The game changer was the Stewmac Z-file (centered or original) that appeared several years ago (so a lot of pros haven't tried it, because they have already developed the skill with what they have). But it arguably makes crowning straightforward. There's little skill involved and few "I'm not sure if I'm doing this right" moments. I don't usually recommend expensive Stewmac tools, but this is the one tool that I feel is clearly the best thing out there. There is less need to practice on a burner neck first, although I wouldn't use it on your vintage guitar first up.

There are areas of setup where you can save money on tools. A crowning file is not one of them IMHO.

User avatar
kingmedicine
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 152
Joined: Wed Jul 14, 2010 9:45 am

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by kingmedicine » Wed Apr 01, 2020 5:56 pm

Thanks for the tips all, good advice on not skimping on the crowning files. I picked up one of the StewMac centered Z ones and it made the job pretty painless and quite fast compared to how much time I was spending with the triangle one.

User avatar
buddhuu
PAT PEND
PAT PEND
Posts: 11
Joined: Wed Aug 28, 2019 2:10 pm

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by buddhuu » Thu Apr 02, 2020 1:55 am

Getting real crowning files was a good move.

I've been doing fretted instrument repairs and setups since the 1980s. True enough we used homemade and improvised tools for most stuff then because if the professional tools were available we often didn't know about them. I messed up a few jobs in the early days for want of better tools - and, to be honest, for want of experience at times.

There are great tools available now and, IMO, it is a little crazy not to use them.

I still use a lot of homemade tools - flush-face ground pincers and nippers for lifting and trimming frets, fret dressing files with ground-flat edges and faces etc - but for crowning and nut slotting I use professional tools because, quite simply, they largely eliminate error and accident. Proper crowning files are great.

User avatar
kosmonautmayhem
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 5792
Joined: Sun Mar 14, 2010 8:26 am
Location: Chicago

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by kosmonautmayhem » Thu Apr 02, 2020 4:29 am

This is a great thread. I just started started doing my own fret work last year. I took the plunge with fret leveling and dressing. I kind of sweated over the crowning files a bit. I tried a cheap crowning file but it doesn't really do much - perhaps a better made file will? The issue I have is with different fret sizes. How does one file crown them all?

I ended up with a three corner file that I like a lot. It take a lot more time and care but I can get exactly the kind of shape I want. I can also see what I'm doing which makes a huge difference to me. I still want to try a good crowning file but not sure I need it?

I did buy a stewmac fret end file which has made nice work of detailing and rounding the fret ends a little.

User avatar
buddhuu
PAT PEND
PAT PEND
Posts: 11
Joined: Wed Aug 28, 2019 2:10 pm

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by buddhuu » Thu Apr 02, 2020 7:01 am

With crowning files you need to make sure the file size is correct for the size of your frets. They don't have to be an exact match but trying to crown jumbo frets with a file made for narrow frets doesn't work. Doing thin frets with a file made for wider ones will work.

The other, old way is to mask off the board, wrap sandpaper around a finger and rub the straight finger up and down the frets from nut to highest fret and back. Takes ages and you have to polish the frets afterwards - usually even more than you do after crowning with a file!

User avatar
timtam
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 1521
Joined: Sun Oct 22, 2017 2:42 am
Location: Melbourne

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by timtam » Thu Apr 02, 2020 5:06 pm

Unlike other crowning files with curved concave profiles, the Z-file is fret-size agnostic - the one file should work with all fret sizes according to Stewmac. The flat-angled groove profiles on the Z-file mean that the file never contacts the levelled top of the fret. Erick Coleman at SM originally preferred the 'original' Z-file (video #1 below) but now says he recommends the centred version (video #2). They have the same groove profiles, just arranged differently. Because you flip the file and use both sizes, the end result should be the same with both.
https://youtu.be/dk97NHsYyj4
https://youtu.be/PX71E-y_mzk

User avatar
buddhuu
PAT PEND
PAT PEND
Posts: 11
Joined: Wed Aug 28, 2019 2:10 pm

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by buddhuu » Fri Apr 03, 2020 2:21 am

I was going to try those a while back but a friend who has the centred one said he wasn't keen on the profile he got with it. He reckons that the frets don't feel as smooth when one does techniques like slides. At $300 for a set that kind of put me off trying - because if I got them I'd want the full set.

If I lived closer to my friend I would have tried his to see for myself but I'm not doing a road trip to Germany just to try a fret file, LOL. I am still tempted to give them a go but really just out of curiosity. I'm all but retired from working on anything but my own guitars, none of which are likely to need a level before arthritis stops me from wearing them out any more, so maybe not really justifiable.

I was never keen on the triangular files for crowning. I found I used to get a more smoothly rounded profile with sandpaper on a finger or dowel. When I finally got a good set of concave files I never used anything else.

The best invention in my book for fretwork was the handheld fret press. Man, that was amongst the best money I ever spent on a tool.

User avatar
kingmedicine
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 152
Joined: Wed Jul 14, 2010 9:45 am

Re: Fret level and crown

Post by kingmedicine » Fri Apr 03, 2020 3:56 am

As a general question still, how thin are you all shooting for the line to be after crowning (regardless of tool)? Or is it just important for it to be centered? I’ve seen arguments for both a “school bus” shaped sort of fret and more fine pointed frets.

I noticed at least with the Z file, because of the construction, the width of that section at the center after crowning does not seem to be super controllable (ends up a little less than a mm in width roughly). However, in videos I’ve seen of people using the rounded crowning files or 3 corner files, the line looks very very thin in some cases. Some of this is probably relative due to the starting width of the fret wire (i.e., medium jumbo vs jumbo), but I’m curious if there is a general metric people shoot for.

Post Reply